You might wonder why a tech guy would ever try to write about masturbation. This one word causes awkward squirming and lack of eye-contact like no other.
No one wants to talk about it.
Parents want to ignore it.
But here’s an uncomfortable reality –tweens and teens are watching Internet porn and masturbating early and often. In other words, there’s a definite connection between technology and masturbation that parents just can’t ignore.
I know this because I respond almost daily to blog comments at Covenant Eyes from teens who desperately want to break free from habitual masturbation.
Here is a sample of comments from the past couple of months. Get ready – this might be overwhelming for some of you. But, each of these is a real kid who is really struggling.
“Hi I’m 17 and I love God and I serve him but I also have a bad porn problem…I pray for it but I keep letting him [God] down. I know I can be forgiven but I keep turning back to it…it always comes back. I need prayers my name is ***** and I just need help to be set free from porn and masturbation.”
“Masturbation affects my studies and sports. I masturbate at night [while using my phone]. Please help me. I do believe in God and have prayed regarding this many times!”
“Hi, l am 18 years old and have masturbated since my freshman year of high school…l would like some advice about what to do!”
“As a woman, I have struggled with masturbation since I was six, related to sexual abuse and early pornography exposure…”
“I have been suffering from masturbation since I can remember. When I got into secondary school, I was ten and that’s when I knew what I was doing. Later I also started looking at pornographic materials. Please I have tried and tried to stop with no solution. I know it’s a sin and I need help. Please reply”
“Hi, I’ve been doing porn and masturbation since I was 15 and now I’m 18 and I really want to stop because it is affecting my life badly. I’m even losing interest in basketball because I’d rather stay at home and watch porn than go for practice…I feel really awful and there is this strong feeling of hate and doubt I have for myself deep within and there this lack of interest I get towards stuff lately, even with friends. I really need your help and advice……please reply.”
“I am 17. Live in Nigeria. And I have a big porn/masturbation problem….right now, I’m feeling very guilty and depressed. I just finished masturbating. Sometimes I wonder if I can ever break free of this 3 year-old addiction.”
“I am 15 years old. I am suffering from a porn and masturbation problem and I have no one whom I trust to share this with. I am an Atheist and I would really appreciate if someone would like to help me. Please I request you.”
“I am 15 years old. Between the ages of 5 and 8 or 9, I was sexually abused by my brother. I have struggled with masturbation, porn, and sexual temptation ever since. Now I’m 16 years old. I wanna control myself from this bad habit. Please help me.”
This is just a sample.
Here are 3 tips to help parents talk about this complicated issue.
Do Your Homework
What do you believe, mom and dad? Will they go blind? Is masturbation sinful? If so, why? What does your religious denomination believe? Can you explain your thoughts clearly, but gently and without judgment?
If your son or daughter asks you, “why is it wrong?” You need to have a response other than “it’s just bad” or “just don’t do it.”
The topic of masturbation is complicated and controversial because the Bible is practically silent on the topic. As a result, some denominations stay neutral. Focus on the Family makes this statement, “this is an area where we have to be careful about laying down hard and fast rules or assuming that we know exactly how God views this matter.”
On the other hand, Catholic teaching is quite clear that masturbation is sinful. But, do you know why? St. Pope John Paul’s Theology of the Body (TOB) offers a beautiful explanation of God’s original design for sex, based on our Genesis origins.
He contends that sex is a Divine gift to be offered based on love and marital commitment, instead of a solo act of “self-sex” based on lust. In other words, sexual love – the most intimate expression of love – was not intended to terminate on “self”. It is a gift to be given. This is reflective of the character of God, who is a “giver” by nature, “For God gave His one and only Son….”(John 3:16).
Whether you are Catholic or Protestant, it’s very much worth your time to read a summary of St. John Paul’s writings, which are all based on Scripture. You will be informed and better equipped to answer the “why?” question.
Don’t Freak Out
If you discover your son or daughter has been masturbating, take a deep breath and calm down before talking about it with him or her. There’s nothing to be gained by freaking out. The first conversation is critical for setting the tone for the discussion.
Be direct but gentle. Based on the many, many comments I’ve read from teens, I can almost guarantee that shame and guilt are doing their job to beat up your child. You don’t need to join the disappointment party.
Instead, they need to know that you still love them. If you land on the side of masturbation is a habit that should be stopped, then talk through your reasons why (because you already did your homework – see above). Stay far, far away from an attitude of judgment in your tone and your facial expressions.
When you choose to not freak out, it helps them know that they aren’t a freak.
Listen closely to what they are saying. It might be that masturbating is a self-soothing behavior – a way of coping with the stresses and anxieties of life by meeting the need for comfort and peace. If this is the case, maybe a parent help their child replace the behavior with a more positive activity.
Focus on the Family makes this wise statement:
“Your approach to this issue will need to be both tactful and realistic. A bottom line worth stressing is that masturbation should not play a major role in your child’s life, either as a source of relentless guilt or as a frequent and persistent habit that displaces healthy sexual relations in the future. If it happens once in a while, it happens. But it should not be pursued as a form of recreation, especially while viewing sexually provocative material, and it should never be allowed to occur with other people.”
Understand this: Masturbation = Watching Porn and Watching Porn = Masturbation
Watching pornography will eventually include masturbation. The body’s natural sexual response caused by repeated exposure to pornography will demand that a young person does something at some point.
Similarly, someone who masturbates will eventually start watching porn in order to continue achieving the type of sexual response required to masturbate regularly.
Recently, Barna published their insightful analysis of pornography consumption in America called The Porn Phenomenon: The Impact of Pornography in the Digital Age. Their data showed that 41% of Christian men and 13% of Christian women ages 13-24 view porn regularly.
Therefore, I contend that many (if not all) of the young people who regularly view porn are also masturbating. Why wouldn’t they? Pornography makes it seem 100% acceptable, good, and amazing.
We were wired for sexual stimulation.
If you’re Christian, this is because God created us to bond with our spouse through the sexual experience to create the “one flesh” described in Genesis 2:24. If you’re an evolutionist, this is because if we keep having sex, the species survives. In other words, sexual stimuli fire up our brain’s rewards system in ways other stimuli don’t.
And, when kids combine pornography + masturbation + orgasm, it equals formula that is very tough to overcome. Neurologically, the body is screaming, “MORE! MORE! MORE!” But, spiritually, emotionally, and relationally, the heart is screaming, “MAKE IT STOP!”
Is Now the Right Time?
Naturally, parents will ask, “When do I bring up the topic of masturbation?” My response would be, “much earlier than you think you should.”
Do high school students need to know what you believe about the topic? What scripture can teach us about lust and love? Probably. What about middle schoolers? Maybe not, but I’ll leave it up to each parent.
This response is not a cop out. I just don’t know your kid well enough to give a blanket answer. If your 8th-grade son has had free and open access to YouTube without much monitoring and spends hours and hours consuming Internet content and playing video games, then he probably knows more about masturbation than you do. On the other hand, if your 9th-grade daughter is rather sheltered, has closely monitored Internet access, and has positive awesome friendships, then she’s probably not ready to hear about it. You know your kid best.
And, don’t forget that with an awkward topic like masturbation, in many families, everyone will feel more comfortable if mothers talk with daughters and fathers with sons. In a single parent situation, rely on a trusted friend, relative or youth pastor to fill in some gaps in this sensitive area.
This was a difficult blog to write! I wanted to be direct and helpful, but delicate, knowing that it’s complicated. Given the flood of comments I’ve recently received from hurting, guilt-ridden young people, it seemed necessary to tackle the subject.
Based on the blog comments, it’s clear that technology is giving kids a doorway to pornography that is destroying their lives and accelerating addiction on multiple fronts.
These comments provide further evidence to me that in the digital age, there is no room for passive parenting. Dr. Google doesn’t take a break, and neither can we. Consistent and persistent conversations, even about the awkward stuff, are a parent’s best defense against destructive behaviors.
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I love life. Seriously! Each. Day. A. Gift. Former CPA, business advisor, youth pastor, development director, porn survivor. Current marketing manager for Covenant Eyes and CEO of PYE. God shares wild ideas with me about life while I run. I love guiding parents to teach their kids how to use technology well while protecting them from the bad stuff.